The identity of the first astronaut aboard the Artemis I mission to the moon has been revealed – and it’s none other than Shaun the Sheep.
A statuette of Aardman’s beloved character will be placed aboard NASA’s Orion spacecraft before taking off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, US, later this summer.
The mission, which will include the European Space Agency (ESA) European Service Module for the first time, will circle the moon before returning to Earth.
The spacecraft will be controlled by agents on the ground, while Shaun keeps everything in ‘sheep form’ in the Orion capsule.
“This is an exciting time for Shaun and for us at ESA,” said Dr David Parker, Director of Human and Robotic Exploration at ESA.
“We are thrilled that he has been selected for the mission and we understand that while it may be a small step for a human, it is a big leap for the lamb.”
Shaun’s spacecraft will enter low Earth orbit before the upper stage fires and sends it into translunar orbit. The Orion capsule will then make a flight past the moon, using gravity to gain speed and propel itself 70,000 km past the lunar satellite, before plunging back into the Atlantic Ocean up to 42 days later.
Shaun the Sheep also flew the Airbus ‘Zero G’ A310 aircraft, during one of its parabolic flights that mimics the ‘weightless’ conditions of those experienced in space.
Shaun and the Orion will be launched later this summer by NASA’s Space Launch System — a 322-foot (98-meter) tall, $23 billion mega-rocket —
NASA’s Space Launch System: The Largest Rocket Ever Made
Space Launch System, or SLS, is a launch vehicle that NASA hopes will take its astronauts back to the moon and beyond.
The rocket will have an initial lift configuration, expected to be launched in early 2020, followed by an improved ‘evolved lift capacity’ capable of carrying heavier payloads.
Initial Lift Capacity of the Space Launch System
– First flight: mid 2020
– Height: 322 feet (98 meters)
– Lift: 70 tons
– Weight: 2.5 million kilograms (5.5 million lbs)
Space Launch System Evolved Lifting Capacity
– First flight: Unknown
– Height: 384 feet (117 meters)
– Lift: 130 tons
– Weight: 2.9 million kilograms (6.5 million lbs)
Shaun and the Orion will be launched by NASA’s Space Launch System – a 322 ft (98 meter) tall, $23 billion mega rocket.
The spacecraft will enter low Earth orbit before the upper stage fires and sends it into translunar orbit.
The Orion capsule will then make a flight past the moon, using its gravity to gain speed and propel itself 70,000 km past and around the lunar satellite, before plunging back into the Atlantic Ocean up to 42 days later.
In preparation for this flight, Shaun began a program of astronaut training and introduction to the Orion spacecraft in 2020.
He traveled to locations in Europe and the US to see various aspects of the mission, which will be presented in a series of ESA blog posts ahead of the launch.
The Shaun model also flew the Airbus ‘Zero G’ A310 aircraft in 2019, during one of its parabolic flights that mimics “weightless” conditions similar to those in space.
It provided insight into the rigorous training all astronauts undergo to prepare for spaceflight, which he will now experience in real life.
The woolly character’s journey marks the 15th anniversary of Shaun’s first TV series, produced by animation company Aardman.
Lucy Wendover, Marketing Director at Aardman, said: “Aardman is delighted to be making history with ESA by launching the first ‘sheep’ into space.
“As one of the first astronauts to fly an Artemis mission, Shaun is leading the way in lunar exploration, a great honor for our woolly adventurer!”
Artemis I, who has suffered several delays over the past two and a half years, will finally launch an unmanned Orion capsule that will fly around the moon and back to Earth
NASA engineers use a suitable mannequin — known as “Commander Moonikin Campos — to conduct vibration tests at Kennedy Space Center. It will fly aboard the Orion spacecraft
Joining Shaun on the Orion spacecraft will be NASA’s ‘Moonikin’ mannequin.
Known as ‘Commander Moonikin Campos’, the test dummy has been successfully installed in the commander’s seat at the head of the Orion capsule.
It is named after Arturo Campus, an electrical engineer who played a key role in the safe return of Apollo 13 to Earth in 1970.
Commander Campos will provide NASA experts with data on what human astronauts may experience in flight in the future.
Sensors in the headrest and behind the seat measure vibrations and accelerations, while radiation sensors monitor exposure.
Two more mannequins – Helga and Zohar – will be installed in the Orion in the coming weeks to record the radiation levels.
Last month, NASA announced that it had selected three possible dates for its Artemis I mission: August 29, September 2, or September 5.
James Free, associate administrator at NASA’s Washington DC headquarters, said the exact date will be determined about a week before launch.
Artemis 1 mission will launch an unmanned Orion spacecraft. Pictured is a cutout of Orion with Helga and Zohar and above it another male mannequin named Campos
NASA will land the first woman and first person of color on the moon in 2025 as part of the Artemis mission
Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo and goddess of the moon in Greek mythology.
NASA has chosen her to personify the path back to the moon, which will see astronauts return to the lunar surface by 2025 — including the first woman and the next man.
Artemis 1, formerly Exploration Mission-1, is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration to the Moon and Mars.
Artemis 1 will be the first integrated flight test of NASA’s deep space exploration system: the Orion spacecraft, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the ground systems at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Artemis 1 will be an unmanned flight that will provide a foundation for human exploration of deep space and demonstrate our commitment and capacity to extend human existence to the moon and beyond.
During this flight, the spacecraft will launch on the most powerful rocket in the world and fly farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown.
It will travel 280,000 miles (450,600 km) from Earth, thousands of miles beyond the moon over the course of a mission of about three weeks.
Artemis 1, formerly Exploration Mission-1, is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration to the Moon and Mars. This image explains the different stages of the mission
Orion will stay in space longer than any other astronaut ship has done without docking in a space station and returning home faster and hotter than ever before.
With this first exploration mission, NASA is leading the next steps of human exploration into deep space, where astronauts will build and begin testing the systems near the moon needed for lunar surface missions and exploration to other destinations further from Earth, including Mars.
They take the crew on a different trajectory and test Orion’s critical systems with people on board.
Together, Orion, SLS and the ground systems at Kennedy will be able to meet the most challenging needs of crew and cargo missions in deep space.
Ultimately, NASA aims to establish a sustainable human presence on the moon by 2028 as a result of the Artemis mission.
The space agency hopes this colony will discover new scientific discoveries, demonstrate new technological advances and lay the foundation for private companies to build a lunar economy.